The zoom-in of Pluto, showing an approximately 150-mile swath of the planet, reveals a mountain range about 11,000 feet high and tens of miles wide. “The team constantly since launch thought, ‘Every day we’re closer to Pluto, every day we’re closer to Pluto, ‘ ” he says.
“Pluto is finally becoming more than just a pinpoint of light”, said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist.
“Charon just blew our socks off”, said Olkin.
The New Horizons team also announced it was naming the “heart” shape on Pluto’s surface, Tombaugh Regio, after Clyde Tombaugh, the discover of Pluto.
Now, it’s transmitted back some of the sharpest images yet of Pluto’s moon, Charon, and pictures of the icy mountains on Pluto.
“This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds”, said John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, adding that the mountains could have been composed of Pluto’s water-ice “bedrock”. A previous image has already revealed a large smooth region in Charon’s southern hemisphere suggesting the contrary. The best part: The north polar region of Charon has a giant dark marking that NASA has been referring to as Mordor, which basically means they totally get us.
This included the first well-resolved images of one of Pluto’s four small moons, the potato-shaped Hydra.
NASA hypothesized that the surface of the planet must somehow have been refreshed, either through ice volcanoes, an underground ocean, or other geological activity that gives off heat. Subsequent images will provide more information about the formation of all these moons, which took place billions of years ago. Spectroscopic data from New Horizons’ Ralph instruments reveal an abundance of methane ice, but with striking differences among regions across the frozen surface of Pluto.
“This is a tremendous moment in human history”, said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s science mission chief.
Our first glimpse of the planets in our solar system weren’t always as crisp and clean as the images from Pluto.
The probe, now heading deeper into the mysterious Kuiper Belt beyond our solar system, also clicked a new, youthful view of Pluto’s largest moon Charon. The probe came within 7,500 miles of the dwarf planet’s surface to take pictures and collect data.